We are Northerners. We are small-town Americans. We come from hearty stock. Our backs are strong and our wills, even stronger. We don’t like handouts. We work. We live. We persevere. We are mentally tough and emotionally ready.
Or at least we’d like to think so.
Despite being far from the speed and the bustle of the city, regardless of our clean air and pristine water, even with our close-knit communities and disproportionately large numbers claiming faith, we rural folk are not immune to the stress of the modern-day world. We still fall prey to Continue reading “What’s Eating Rural America?”
It wasn’t the first time he’d come to visit me in Seattle, but it was the most significant. Raw and wounded from his recent separation and impending divorce, my older brother and his young daughter made the three hour drive up from Portland late in the day on Thanksgiving and stayed only one night. It would have been the first holiday they’d spend alone, and I had insisted he come join my circle.
(Column 49 – published in the Jan 31st Warroad Pioneer)
My time for despair is over.
Several times in previous columns I have said that this writing-it-down, this metabolizing it onto paper through my soul’s fingers is my therapy. Like walking or talking or exercise, it is the way I work through the suffering, coming out leaner, stronger, more open to the grace that is my everyday compass.
My previous column entitled “Not Ready to Make Nice” was written through the lens of despair, and surprisingly, to no one more than me, it was well-read. It was called both “hate-filled” and “inspiring.” I was called both “courageous” and “a petulant child.”
My intention now isn’t to rebut the rebuttal, but I do think it’s vitally important to continue the conversation. It must start in towns like ours, between disagreeing neighbors like us, about issues that seem so irreconcilable now. If not here in our home, than where? If we cannot heal the great divide even in our small communities, how will we fix the very big and very real problems facing humanity and our planet?
The divide is real and scary ugly, as we can all feel. Both sides believe they are standing in Truth. Both sides feel attacked and denigrated. Both sides, in the end, want the same things: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But I don’t want that for just some of us…I want it for All.
All beating hearts deserve a comfortable life, freedom to be who they are, and a chance at happiness. White males are not more deserving than brown. Men are not more deserving than women. Soldiers are not more deserving than struggling welfare moms.
Once upon a time, I stood in line with my WIC coupons clutched tightly to my chest, and my daughter visits the local dentist and optometrist thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Am I any less deserving of happiness than anyone else?
Simplified to the utmost: God loves his children as one.
We are more than just Angleites or Warroadians or Minnesotans. We are more than Americans. Those of us on the “left,” the ones being called snowflakes and elitests and libtards, seem to feel the call to a global citizenship more keenly than others. But that is how some of us are meant to serve the greater good. We are the tender-minded and the kind-hearted, and it is our place to bring empathy and teach compassion to those who do not come by those qualities as easily.
There are some very tough-minded and hard-hearted people in charge now. It is a different brand of leadership than the US has known in many decades. We all have a responsibility to ensure the marginalized members of our society and our planet do not get pushed aside (or worse) in the name of profit or false patriotism.
A child starves to death every four seconds, and we are wrong if we think it doesn’t impact every single one of us. The suffering is collective. The pain and misery and the need to blame has become epidemic. But even acid rain can transform into snowflakes.
I know my language is that of an idealist. And I’m not ashamed. I will always write what I am called to. I will always ask God to guide my words. I will always be grateful to a community that doesn’t throw literal rocks.
To the brave few, specifically Paul King, Brenda McFarlane and Ron Storey, who publicly voiced their opposition to my viewpoints, I am grateful and I forgive you. I hope you will forgive me when you are ready.
Forgiveness is where it begins.
We needn’t try to change each other; that would only be messing with God’s creations.
My hope is that through our disagreements and our despair, through our words that land so differently depending on the ears, that we can come to truly “see” and appreciate each other. I have not seen you and you do not see me. That, in large part, is the root of my despair. We are utterly disconnected.
This is far more than a political battle. This is spiritual warfare, and it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.
We as individuals will never be “whole” while we cannot see each other.
I once expressed my belief that we don’t need the right to own the kind of guns that were designed solely for the mass slaughter of human beings. My brother, whom I love dearly but completely disagree with, then labeled me as one of those people who “lay down and die.”
I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but I assume it’s something akin to “snowflake.” If you are inclined to read the thoughts of an 18-year ministry veteran on that term, search for John Pavlovitz and “A Snowflake Manifesto.”
My brother’s words “lay down and die” have stayed with me, teaching me. When my ego is not smarting from his intentions to injure me, my thoughts often turn to the old story about a marauding overlord and his followers who swept through the land raping, killing and plundering. They came to a monastery high in the mountains and demanded that all the monks leave or be killed at once. Grateful to be spared, every monk did so except for one. When the men reported to their leader that there was one monk who refused to leave, the overlord became enraged. Never having been disobeyed before, the furious overlord made his way to the seated monk, held his sword at the man’s throat and screamed, “Don’t you know that I can kill you at this moment?”
The monk calmly replied, “Don’t you know that I can let you?”
In that instant, the overlord dropped his sword and fell to his knees, transformed.
That is what I pray for. That is what I will fight towards. Yes, the time for despair has passed. Now it’s time to get back to bringing the light.
Column 11 Published in the September 29 Warroad Pioneer
The Angle is undeniably a man’s world. It is a land of extremes governed by a hearty few who have toiled under back-breaking conditions to make it the civilized mess it is today. I have read the dry and distant history books of this place; I have visited on end with the old-timers; I have thrown myself into the community jumble as much as anyone can, and still I know nothing.
My future at the Angle is as up in the air as the wind-riding pelicans. I am still very much a newcomer, and now I may be a short-timer. There are less than a handful of single ladies at the Angle, and suddenly there’s a new demographic, one single mom, or as my weathered ex likes to say “a single mom at age 40 who still lives with her parents, has no job and no car.”
It’s all truth. I turn 40 in November, live with my parents in their large unfinished B&B, and my hand-me-down Angle vehicle barely runs; I have to air up the tire and reconnect the battery every time I want to use it. I’ve never really had a fulltime “job” here at the Angle, but I do make a sustainable income, and, unlike some, I keep track of every penny and report it on my taxes each spring. Normal jobs for women at The Angle involve slinging drinks, flipping burgers or cleaning cabins. Jobs for men are in fishing, heavy equipment and construction. There are exceptions on each side, of course, for the lucky few (or unlucky, depending on your vantage) who sit behind a desk at home or manage to be a Jill of All Trades.
Regardless, we keep busy in a man’s world. Everything and everyone is commoditized, especially women. In this world, our worth is measured first by our appearance, second by our helpfulness and third by our survivability, because yes, The Angle way of life can certainly be a test of extreme survival in a matter of moments if someone is careless or disregards intuition.
Driven by the desire to learn and honor, I’ve started to dive in to the stories of the amazing women who shaped The Angle. Earlier this summer I interviewed Joan Undahl, a gracious and lovely lady who can, but doesn’t, claim the title of The Angle’s first (and only?) woman fishing guide. She seemed completely oblivious to the power, leadership and compassion that came through in her voice. She is an islander, a more challenging life-style by far than simply living on The Angle mainland.
I assumed we were all one community, and that is how Mrs. Undahl told the story as well. But while the feminine unites, the masculine seems to divide. As I watched my recent relationship crumble, I heard again and again the words that I couldn’t get on board with how “half the Angle does things.” Apparently there are two different worlds up here: it’s not the stodgy landlubbers vs. the hard-living islanders as he might have had me believe. Rather, it’s those who want to keep themselves and The Angle growing forward in a positive direction vs. those who resist change and insist on the old ways.
Drinking and carousing seem to be written into The Angle rule book by the very men who built this place, the same ones who now complain about it following its natural evolutionary path that they helped kick start.
It was Marilyn Monroe, the most commoditized of all beauties, who said, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” I came to The Angle and danced in my long pink hippie skirts. I let my hair go curly and natural. I brought a bubbly little blonde force of feminine energy into this world in my out-of-wedlock child. And we love it here.
Around the world, people are aware that life is changing. The feminine is rising into partnership with the masculine. And The Angle is no different. Human beings are undergoing a massive change and turning away from old perceptions and ideas. In 2009, at the Vancouver Peace Summit, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the Western Woman.” Our natural gifts of intuition, healing and building community will be the foundation of that saving grace.
Some might say that airing dirty laundry in public is unbecoming. But once upon a time, we were all down by the river washing our rags on the flat rocks of love and connection.
Today, I prefer to cleanse mine through all manner of therapeutic remedies and then hang it out in the gale force wind to dry. For the most part, these beautiful, thick-skinned Angle folk would simply chuckle if the winds of change blew something unmentionable across their lawn. It might be a man’s world, but it does indeed need saving. Thankfully, some of us have the energy and inspiration to change our own lives and help make a difference outside of ourselves as well.
Column 10 Published in the September 15 Warroad Pioneer
Most all of us have been through heartbreak. It’s a pain that is as real as any physical injury pain, and the internal stress it causes our body has been proven.
I moved to The Angle for love. I was full of hope for the potential of the relationship and the simple, back-to-the-earth lifestyle that the Angle could provide. We kept a long distance courtship going for nearly two years before I was ready to leave the bustle of beautiful Seattle and the false feeling of importance a corporate job at Microsoft gave me.
Once here, the “when-in-Rome” attitude became apparent immediately. People come to resort communities on vacation, and the unmeasured majority of those people incorporate drinking into that vacation. And so, for the small number of permanent residents and temporary workers, alcohol is a big part of this way of life. The fishing guides drink with their clients after a day on the water. Resort workers take their meals in the bar. The only gathering place on the mainland is a bar/restaurant, and it’s where we hold our community potlucks, our holiday and birthday parties, and most every other social gathering.
It takes a toll. Drinking, both of ours, destroyed our relationship.
According to Allen Carr’s book, “The Easy Way to Stop Drinking,” 90% of US adults drink alcohol and an alcoholic will spend, on average, $116,000 on booze in their lifetime. Claiming the label of “social drinker,” I have long faced my own battle with this deadly drug, but only recently have I noticed the prevalence of the social messages that glorify drinking. When I heard a group of sweet 15-year old girls singing “I’m getting’ drunk on a plane,” I wanted to weep. 95% of today’s country songs mention alcohol, bars, or being intoxicated – which was my own unofficial tally after tuning in for 1.5 hours to one of the three radio stations we receive here at the Angle.
There is no tally of how many of us have waited, tired and broken, for a relationship to become what we wanted it to be. The collective psyche, or “pain body” as Eckhart Tolle calls it, of those who have tried is a heavy weight upon humanity. Alcoholism is another. Turns out, as it always does, instead of expecting external circumstances to change, I should have started from within.
Now, with scary freedom in front of me, I get that opportunity, and here at The Angle of all places, an epicenter of quiet, healing energy not far above the force of bedrock that keeps this place so unchanging and untouched. There’s a thousand miles of forest on one side and a million miles of lake shore on the other. (Thereabouts. A girl can exaggerate when it’s warranted.)
So the healing and growth plan started right after Labor Day, my very own back-to-school of sorts. I began a physical cleanse. I started a gentle workout routine. I’ve sworn off even the innocent social drink until Halloween and hopefully beyond. I’ve submerged myself in the lake as often as I can, even as the water temperature plummets. I listen to uplifting audio books on my long ride to and from town. I’m sharing readings and self-care tasks with a soul sister. I sit with a tree and soak up whatever wisdom it has to offer, a task assigned by said soul sister. She, in all her earthy intelligence, has become my bedrock, my shoulder. She’s experienced the power of The Angle. She’ll be drawn here too someday.
I understand that the drinking way of life isn’t about to change any time soon, here or elsewhere. It’s one of the more powerful and poisonous drugs out there, and it’s completely legal after a certain age, which happens to be 18 in Sprague, Manitoba, the only waystation on our trek back to Minnesota proper.
I also recognize that it is a large part of our livelihood and the resort life here at the Angle. Criticism isn’t my intention. I’m speaking openly in hopes that it will spur accountability and better choices on my part in the future.
Because heartbreak is hard; it’s the stuff of aching songs and soulful suffering. It’s the howling of the wind on the coldest night of the year. It’s the yearning for peace when the waves crash madly against the rocks of my mind, night after night after night.
It’s time for me to be still and quiet, like the deep waters and the untouched forests of this place. It’s time to feel further into the heartbreak, to know it and be it until the suffering becomes love and forgiveness, until the pain becomes gratitude, until the loss and grieving become grace and growth. Home is where the heart breaks and mends. Home is here, now.
(This is the only column so far that the wonderful Editor and Publisher of the Warroad Pioneer helped me edit. We had a lovely conversation about it, sharing tears and our own personal histories. I’m so grateful to be able to write for them. In the paper, there was also an Editor’s Note added at the end listing out local resources to help deal with alcohol or substance abuse and the financial and social repercussions that can accompany them.)
Column 9 Published in the August 25 Warroad Pioneer
The Shift occurred a week or so back. I was out walking the gravel roads, and for the first time in months felt the tiniest bit under-dressed and a keen desire to rush home and curl up with a good book. I love how subtle it can be some years. And I love how it announces itself with exclamation points other years. The nights are colder now. The dew seems heavier and of ill intent to our rain-stunted garden. The fast-growing trees are losing their first leaves and a back-to-school buzz floats on the winds of summer’s-end.
The hardier fisherman have arrived. The partiers and the raucous atmosphere they lend to our lives have mostly gone back to the default world. And all around the Angle, the fall prep work begins. We’re like squirrels gathering our acorns with a sense of urgency that wasn’t there mere days ago.
We’re watching new driveways take shape, and the well diggers have been here for weeks now, boring new access ports down to the iron-rich waters that feed this place. The spotted fawns, while still gangly legged and dependent, seem more confident and curious.
My first fall here four years ago, I reveled in the manual labor that seemed to me to define this lifestyle. Having just left a corporate desk job, commuting by aluminum fishing boat with a 25 horse tiller engine to move a woodpile on a Bear River homestead was the ultimate in mindful worship.
I remember walking the tree-lined streets of Seattle practicing awareness with purpose, with presence. One would think it would be so much easier here amidst the stillness, amidst the slow intentional way people live their lives here, without the push of in-your-face consumerism, without the traffic and the harried commuters. We have one 3-way stop on our Angle roads. Only once in my four years here have I witnessed three vehicles pulling up at it simultaneously. Each of us laughed and waved in disbelief, seeing it for the anomaly that it was.
Now I practice mindfulness with toddler in tow. We stop to move the still squirming mortally-wounded garter snakes from the road so they may die in the quiet of the grasses. We count the geese when they gather on our driveway. We name the bird calls. We loot the garden. We sing each step up to the top of the one-room schoolhouse playground structure.
We make-up songs of doing chores and cooking meals, and the bedtime stories she requests of late are about deer and frogs. “The baby deer don’t live with their papa,” she quietly pointed out to me as we watched a mama and her twins cross the road in front of us.
Each season is one of change, but the coming of fall has a distinct and perceptible air of necessary death. The arms of the woods will yield once more to our traipsing about, and I hope I can loosen my mind in the crunch of the leaves. I hope.
A Goulet and a Butler youngster head south to college. The newest generation amasses a few more with the arrival of the Carlson Schoen littles, the Anderson’s and hopefully the Edman’s soon. The Colson boys are alive and well after a close call with a vehicle and a black bear. My youngest brother and family are home from a three-year station in South Korea, and his wife and three children will be temporary residents for a short time. School teacher Mrs. LaMie will be as busy as a queen bee and that play structure will feel a lot of love.
If I had to choose, the fall is the most beautiful time of year at the Angle. Winter can crust the world over in harsh temper and hard tasks, if I’m not mindful, if I’m not seeing the beauty in a slumbering world. But for now, a few more fall marshmallow roasts, a few more pleasure cruises on the cooling lake, a few more weeks of harvesting and canning and then the idyllic slow season will be upon us.